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Complete 911 Timeline

Escape From Afghanistan

Project: Complete 911 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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The US is not interested in help from a high-level Taliban informant. Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was the Taliban’s intelligence minister and is currently their deputy interior minister. He is in charge of security in the Afghan capital of Kabul and regularly meets with other high ranking Taliban leaders. But since 1997, he has also been secretly providing a steady stream of intelligence to the Northern Alliance, the enemies of the Taliban. Further, he had offered to help the US defeat the Taliban, and several times before 9/11 CIA agents disguised as journalists visited him to solicit inside information (see April 1999). [Washington Post, 11/30/2001] However, in the weeks after 9/11, he passes letters to get in contact with US intelligence, but never hears back from them. Time magazine will later report, “Khaksar said he was ready to pass on information that might lead to the capture of the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar and to some al-Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan. But he waited days, weeks, months, and nobody contacted him.” [Time, 2/25/2002] Finally in late November 2001, he will publicly defect to the Northern Alliance, thus ending his ability to get real-time information on the movements of Omar and others. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001] The US will continue to remain uninterested in what Khaksar has to say (see February 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, Mullah Omar, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Other Possible Moles or Informants

On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links, Afghanistan, Iraq War Impact on Counterterrorism, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, has a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered to be the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban. They meet in a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Grenier suggests that if the Taliban want to avoid the wrath of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there are several things they can do:
bullet Turn bin Laden over to the US for prosecution.
bullet As CIA Director George Tenet will later put it, “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table.”
bullet Stand aside and let the US find bin Laden on their own.
Osmani and his team relays the offers back to top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but Omar rejects them. On October 2, Grenier has a second meeting with Osmani in a Baluchistan villa. He makes the new proposal that Osmani should overthrow Omar and then use his new power to get rid of bin Laden. This too is rejected. There are no contemporary media accounts of these meetings, but Tenet will describe them in his 2007 book. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 182-183] Curiously, Osmani will be captured by US forces in 2002 and then let go (see Late July 2002). He will be killed in late 2006 (see December 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Taliban, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Robert Grenier

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

According to author James Risen, at some point after 9/11 but before the start of bombing in Afghanistan, “US intelligence located Osama bin Laden, but the US military was not prepared to strike him. [US] intelligence officials say that at the time, the US military was developing a plan for an air campaign over Afghanistan that was not flexible enough to take advantage of the sudden windfall of intelligence concerning bin Laden. This little-known opportunity to kill bin Laden came before the terrorist leader fled into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan, where he became much more difficult to track.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 185]

Entity Tags: United States, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

President Bush signs a directive giving the CIA the authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda members and to set up a global network of secret detention facilities—“black sites”—for imprisoning and interrogating them. [Truthout (.org), 8/27/2004]
Secret Prison System - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will later call the sites a “hidden global internment network” designed for secret detentions, interrogations, and ultimately, torture. At least 100 prisoners will be remanded to this secret system of “extraordinary rendition.” The network will have its own fleet of aircraft (see October 4, 2001) and relatively standardized transfer procedures. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, will become the foundation for the CIA’s secret prison system. The directive does not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Secret Assassination List - Bush also approves a secret “high-value target list” containing about two dozen names, giving the CIA executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those on the list (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). The president is not required to approve each name added to the list and the CIA does not need presidential approval for specific attacks. Further, a presidential finding gives the CIA broad authority to capture or kill terrorists not on the list; the list is merely the CIA’s primary focus. The CIA will use these authorities to hunt for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere. [New York Times, 12/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, International Committee of the Red Cross, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

On September 19, 2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks to Gary Berntsen, a CIA officer who is about to lead the first unit of CIA operatives into Afghanistan. Black tells Berntsen that President Bush has signed a new intelligence order. As Black will put it in 2002, the gloves are off (see September 26, 2002). Black orders Berntsen: “You have one mission. Go find the al-Qaeda and kill them. We’re going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.… I want to take it down and show the president.” Berntsen replies, “Well, that couldn’t be any clearer.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Indeed, two days before Bush, signed new orders giving the CIA broad new powers (see September 17, 2001 and September 17, 2001). Bernsten and his team arrive in Afghanistan on September 26 (see September 26, 2001).

Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Escape From Afghanistan

Leaders of Pakistan’s two Islamic parties are negotiating bin Laden’s extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for the 9/11 attacks during this period, according to a later Mirror article. Under the plan, bin Laden will be held under house arrest in Peshawar and will face an international tribunal, which will decide whether to try him or hand him over to the US. According to reports in Pakistan (and the Daily Telegraph ), this plan has been approved by both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. [Mirror, 7/8/2002] Based on the first priority in the US’s new “war on terror” proclaimed by President Bush, the US presumably would welcome this plan. For example, Bush had just announced, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] Yet, Bush’s ally in the war on terror, Pakistani President Musharraf, rejects the plan (stating that his reason for doing so was because he “could not guarantee bin Laden’s safety”). Based on a US official’s later statements, it appears that the US did not want the deal: “Casting our objectives too narrowly” risked “a premature collapse of the international effort [to overthrow the Taliban] if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured.” [Mirror, 7/8/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

On October 8, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks, Central Command commander in chief, says of the war in Afghanistan, “We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we are about is the destruction of the al-Qaeda network, as well as the… Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 10/8/2001] Later in the month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes similar comments, “My attitude is that if [bin Laden] were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist. He’s got a whole bunch of lieutenants who have been trained and they’ve got bank accounts all over some 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Do we want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don’t get up in the morning and say that is the end; the goal and the endpoint of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.” [USA Today, 10/24/2001] One military expert will later note, “There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora - which was to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban - and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers will make a similar comment in April 2002 (see April 4, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Central Intelligence Agency, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

Khalid Khawaja.Khalid Khawaja. [Source: CNN]Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, as part of his attempt to gather evidence that could tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, contacts the Taliban. He works with Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, who is a lobbyist for Pakistan in the US, an occasional Fox News commentator, and has extensive political ties in the US. Woolsey is also vice chairman of the board of Ijaz’s company. Woolsey and Ijaz work with Khalid Khawaja, a friend of Osama bin Laden and ex-ISI operative. The three plus an unnamed US journalist arrange to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on October 8. The Taliban agree to tell Woolsey about a meeting between Iraqi and al-Qaeda officials that took place in 1997, and possibly other similar information. Apparently in return they hope to avert the US invasion of Afghanistan. However, the US bombing begins on October 7, and the meeting is called off. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Financial Times, 3/6/2003] At least part of this team will later play another behind-the-scenes role. After being given a tip that Mansoor Ijaz is connected to leading militant Muslims in Pakistan, reporter Daniel Pearl will connect with Khalid Khawaja, who in turn connects him with militant Muslims who kidnap and eventually kill him. A leading Pakistani newspaper will claim that at one point Newsweek is about to accuse Khawaja of involvement in the plot to kidnap Pearl, but Ijaz vouches for Khawaja and convinces Newsweek to pull back its accusations. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Mullah Omar, James Woolsey, Iraq, Mansoor Ijaz, Al-Qaeda, Daniel Pearl, Khalid Khawaja

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

President Bush briefly considers sealing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the escape of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but then decides against it. According to journalist Bob Woodward, a National Security Council (NSC) meeting held on this day is attended by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and others. Intelligence indicates that about 100 people per day are going from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Woodward will claim, “There was some talk of sealing the border.” But he adds the idea is immediately dismissed: “It seemed an impossible idea, not practical given the hundreds of miles of mountainous and rough terrain, some of the most formidable in the world. There were few roads. Getting from one point to another could only be done on foot, with mules, or on horseback.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 205] CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment, “There is no denying that closing that border was a hard job, but if the NSC did not believe that the best military in the world could close the border and trap bin Laden, why did it decide that the task could be safely allotted to the poorly armed and trained and generally anti-US Pakistani forces?” [Scheuer, 2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. [Rich, 2006, pp. 208]

Entity Tags: Michael Hirsh, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Gary Bernsten.Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Gary Berntsen, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

According to author Ron Suskind, some time in November the US makes a deal with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan will seal off the passages to Pakistan from the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan where Taliban and al-Qaeda forces are expected to gather. In return, the US will give Pakistan nearly a billion dollars in new economic aid. Pakistan will fail to effectively seal the border in the next month (see December 10, 2001) and almost the entire force in Tora Bora will escape into Pakistan. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan, United States

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Many locals in Afghanistan reportedly witness a remarkable escape of al-Qaeda forces from Kabul around this time. One local businessman says, “We don’t understand how they weren’t all killed the night before because they came in a convoy of at least 1,000 cars and trucks. It was a very dark night, but it must have been easy for the American pilots to see the headlights. The main road was jammed from eight in the evening until three in the morning.” This convoy was thought to have contained al-Qaeda’s top officials [London Times, 7/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

A video still of bin Laden filmed during his interview with Hamid Mir in November 2001.A video still of bin Laden filmed during his interview with Hamid Mir in November 2001. [Source: National Geographic]Pakistani reporter Hamid Mir is taken blindfolded to a location somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan to interview bin Laden. The sound of antiaircraft fire can be heard in the distance. Bin Laden looks paler and his beard is greyer. While he doesn’t claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, he says that Muslims were behind it and that Muslims have the moral right to commit such attacks because they are done in self-defense. He says, “I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as deterrent.” He also says, “This place may be bombed. And we will be killed. We love death. The US loves life. That is the big difference between us.” [Reuters, 11/10/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: 9/11 Investigations, Other 9/11 Investigations, Osama Bin Laden, Alleged Al-Qaeda Media Statements, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Bin Laden gave a speech in front of about 1,000 supporters on November 10, 2001 in the town of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] On the night of November 13, a convoy of 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escapes from Jalalabad and reaches the fortress of Tora Bora after hours of driving and then walking. Bin Laden is believed to be with them, riding in one of “several hundred cars” in the convoy. The US bombs the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently does not attack the convoy. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The Northern Alliance captures Jalalabad the next day. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, United States

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden

At the request of the Pakistani government, the US secretly allows rescue flights into the besieged Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, to save Pakistanis fighting for the Taliban (and against US forces) and bring them back to Pakistan. Pakistan’s President “Musharraf won American support for the airlift by warning that the humiliation of losing hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of Pakistani Army men and intelligence operatives would jeopardize his political survival.” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Dozens of senior Pakistani military officers, including two generals, are flown out. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] In addition, it is reported that the Pakistani government assists 50 trucks filled with foreign fighters to escape the town. [New York Times, 11/24/2001] Many news articles at the time suggest an airlift is occurring. [Independent, 11/16/2001; New York Times, 11/24/2001; BBC, 11/26/2001; Independent, 11/26/2001; Guardian, 11/27/2001; MSNBC, 11/29/2001] Significant media coverage fails to develop, however. The US and Pakistani governments deny the existence of the airlift. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; New Yorker, 1/21/2002] On December 2, when asked to assure that the US did not allow such an airlift, Rumsfeld says, “Oh, you can be certain of that. We have not seen a single—to my knowledge, we have not seen a single airplane or helicopter go into Afghanistan in recent days or weeks and extract people and take them out of Afghanistan to any country, let alone Pakistan.” [MSNBC, 4/13/2003] Reporter Seymour Hersh believes that Rumsfeld must have given approval for the airlift. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] However, The New Yorker magazine reports, “What was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus.” A CIA analyst says, “Many of the people they spirited away were in the Taliban leadership” who Pakistan wanted for future political negotiations. US intelligence was “supposed to have access to them, but it didn’t happen,” he says. According to Indian intelligence, airlifts grow particularly intense in the last three days before the city falls on November 25. Of the 8,000 remaining al-Qaeda, Pakistani, and Taliban, about 5,000 are airlifted out and 3,000 surrender. [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Hersh later claims that “maybe even some of bin Laden’s immediate family were flown out on those evacuations.” [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pakistan, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Ismail Khan.Ismail Khan. [Source: US Navy]Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” [USA Today, 1/2/2002] However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [CNN, 11/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, United States, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Ismail Khan, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Mohammed Atef.Mohammed Atef. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs) is believed to have been killed in Gardez, near Kabul, Afghanistan. Atef is considered al-Qaeda’s military commander, and one of its top leaders. Initial reports claim he was killed by a US bombing raid, but later reports will reveal he was hit by Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; ABC News, 11/17/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later indicate that Atef was “a key player in the 9/11 attacks,” but the exact nature of his role has not been revealed. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 187] Documents and videotapes are discovered by US forces in the rubble after the raid. Details on two upcoming al-Qaeda attacks are discovered. Investigators examining the videotapes find images of about 50 al-Qaeda operatives (see November 15-Late December 2001). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 57]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Key Captures and Deaths, Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

Hazrat Ali.Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Michael Scheuer, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001.A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]According to Newsweek, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, escape Afghanistan on this day. This is the first day of heavy bombing of the Tora Bora region (see November 16, 2001). There are two main routes out of the Tora Bora cave complex to Pakistan. The US bombs only one route, so the 600 are able to escape without being attacked using the other route. Hundreds will continue to use the escape route for weeks, generally unbothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards. US officials later privately admit they lost an excellent opportunity to close a trap. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] On the same day, the media reports that the US is studying routes bin Laden might use to escape Tora Bora [Los Angeles Times, 11/16/2001] , but the one escape route is not closed, and by some accounts bin Laden and others escape into Pakistan will use this same route several weeks later (see November 28-30, 2001). High-ranking British officers will later privately complain, “American commanders had vetoed a proposal to guard the high-altitude trails, arguing that the risks of a firefight, in deep snow, gusting winds, and low-slung clouds, were too high.” [New York Times, 9/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

November 16, 2001: Tora Bora Battle Begins

A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region.A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).

Entity Tags: United States, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

It is believed bin Laden makes a speech before a crowd of about 1,000 followers in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan. This village is on the route from Tora Bora to the Pakistani border, about eight to ten hours by walking. In his last known public appearance, bin Laden encourages his followers to leave Afghanistan, so they could regroup and fight again. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] It is believed he crosses the border into Pakistan a few days later (see November 28-30, 2001; November 28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden

US troops are set to land near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan (see November 26, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Apparently, as the noose tightens around Kandahar, Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan, makes a deal with the Taliban. He gives them a general amnesty in return for surrender of the city. Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar is allowed to escape “with dignity” as part of the deal. However, the US says it will not abide by the deal and Karzai then says he will not let Omar go free after all. Taliban forces begin surrendering on December 7. [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/8/2001] Omar escapes.

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Hamid Karzai, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001.US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001. [Source: Earnie Grafton / Agence France-Presse]A force of about 1,200 US marines settles in the countryside around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This will make up nearly the entire US force actually on the ground in the country during the war to remove the Taliban from power. Over the previous week, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton had been in contact with Gen. Tommy Franks and other military leaders at CENTCOM, arguing that “the back door was open” in Tora Bora and the troops should go there instead. But Franks responded that the momentum of the CIA’s effort to corner bin Laden could be lost waiting for the troops to arrive. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58] The marines will end up being largely unused in the Kandahar region while bin Laden will escape from Tora Bora. In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden, will claim that Franks “was either badly misinformed by his own people or blinded by the fog of war. I’d made it clear in my reports that our Afghan allies were hardly anxious to get at al-Qaeda in Tora Bora.” [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] The Afghan allies the US relies on to find bin Laden will actually help him escape (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Hank Crumpton, Thomas Franks, US Department of the Marines, Gary Berntsen

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

At the request of President Bush (see November 21, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones Gen. Tommy Franks with instructions to work on war plans for Iraq. “General Franks, the president wants us to look at options for Iraq,” the general will later recall being told. In his memoirs, Franks will write: “‘Son of a bitch,’ I thought. ‘No rest for the weary.’” Franks will brief Bush on the progress of his work a month later (see December 28, 2001). [Franks, 2004; Salon, 5/19/2005 Sources: Thomas Franks] Over the next few months, Bush will ask for and receive increasingly detailed briefings from Franks about the forces that would be needed if the US were to move against Iraq. The need to prepare for an invasion of Iraq, according to insiders interviewed by the Atlantic Monthly, hinders the US effort against bin Laden and the Taliban. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links, Iraq War Impact on Counterterrorism, Escape From Afghanistan

A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/2002] Newsweek separately reports that many locals “claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda’s top leaders.” [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day this story is reported, months after the fact, the media also will report a recent spate of strange deaths at the same military base in Fayetteville. Five soldiers and their wives died since June 2002 in apparent murder-suicides. At least three were Special Forces soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan. [Independent, 8/2/2002] Other reports indicate that bin Laden crosses the border into Pakistan by foot instead (see November 28-30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden

Bin Laden made his last known public appearance on November 25, 2001, giving a speech in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border (see November 25, 2001). According to later interviews with many locals in the area, it is believed he and four loyalists cross the Pakistan border between November 28 and 30. [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] According to another account, bin Laden crosses the border at this time by helicopter instead (see November 28, 2001). His voice continues to be heard until December 10 on short wave radio transmissions in the Tora Bora enclave he had proportedly left. According to later interviews with loyalists, he calls from Pakistan to Tora Bora to urge his followers to keep fighting. But according to some eyewitness accounts, bin Laden is still in Tora Bora to make the radio transmissions, then leaves with about 30 followers by horseback. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden, Escape From Afghanistan

Hank Crumpton.Hank Crumpton. [Source: State Department]According to author Ron Suskind, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton briefs President Bush and Vice President Cheney about the looming battle in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where about 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban are settling in. He points out the region is very mountainous, with many tunnels and escape routes. Bush asks about the passages to Pakistan that the Pakistani government has agreed to block (see November 2001). Using a map, Crumpton shows “the area on the Pakistani side of the line [is] a lawless, tribal region that [Pakistan has] little control over. In any event, satellite images showed that [Pakistan’s] promised troops hadn’t arrived, and seemed unlikely to appear soon.” Crumpton adds that the Afghan forces in the region allied to the US are “tired and cold and, many of them are far from home.” They were battered from fighting in the south against Taliban forces, and “they’re just not invested in getting bin Laden.” He tells Bush that “we’re going to lose our prey if we’re not careful” and strongly recommends the US marines being sent to Kandahar (see November 26, 2001) get immediately redirected to Tora Bora instead. Cheney says nothing. Bush presses Crumpton for more information. “How bad off are these Afghani forces, really? Are they up to the job?” Crumpton replies, “Definitely not, Mr. President. Definitely not.” However, the Pentagon is not voicing the same concerns to Bush. The marines are not redirected to seal off the passes. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58-59]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Hank Crumpton, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region

Abdullah Tabarak.Abdullah Tabarak. [Source: Public domain]As US forces close in on Tora Bora, bin Laden’s escape is helped by a simple ruse. A loyal bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak takes bin Laden’s satellite phone and goes in one direction while bin Laden goes in the other. It is correctly assumed that the US can remotely track the location of the phone. Tabarak is eventually captured with the phone while bin Laden apparently escapes. Tabarak is later put in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Interrogation of him and others in Tora Bora confirm the account. [Washington Post, 1/21/2003] This story indicates bin Laden was still at least occasionally using satellite phones long after media reports that the use of such phones could reveal his location (see February 9-21, 2001). The US will consider Tabarak such a high-value prisoner that at one point he will be the only Guantanamo prisoner that the Red Cross will be denied access to. However, in mid-2004 he will be released and returned to his home country of Morocco, then released by the Moroccan government by the end of the year. Neither the US nor the Moroccan government will offer any explanation for his release. The Washington Post will call the release of the well-known and long-time al-Qaeda operative an unexplained “mystery.” [Washington Post, 1/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Abdallah Tabarak, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

After US forces conquer Kandahar, Afghanistan, in early December 2001, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida gets Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to help al-Qaeda operatives escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. LeT has already given operatives safe houses in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, trained them there, and helped them travel to Afghanistan to fight US troops. This is according to US government documents leaked by the nonprofit whistleblower group Wikileaks in 2011. These documents provide some details:
bullet In 2002, three suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested in a safe house in Lahore, Pakistan, run by a LeT member. This person had been helping al-Qaeda operatives and their families move to Lahore. Pakistani officials transfer the three al-Qaeda suspects to US custody, but they release the LeT member. [Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet On December 11, 2001, a Saudi named Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi is arrested by police at the Lahore airport. Al-Matrafi is the director of the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, a non-profit organization that the US officially designated an al-Qaeda front in late September 2001 (see September 24, 2001). Al-Matrafi had been staying at an LeT linked non-profit in Lahore, and LeT provided him with a visa and exit paperwork to leave Pakistan. Al-Matrafi is handed over to US custody several days later, and he will eventually be sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2007; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet A Saudi named Jabir Hasan Mohammad al-Qahtani, a suspected al-Qaeda operative who also works for the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, is captured in Kabul, Afghanistan, in mid-November 2001. He is discovered to possess 16 $100 bills. He will later be transferred to the Guantanamo prison. An intelligence analyst will later note: “There were individuals passing out $100 notes to al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan. This may have been a part of the help that LeT provided al-Qaeda members.” [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2005; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002 (see March 28, 2002), more than 30 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested at the same time. These arrests take place in two safe houses in Faisalabad run by LeT. The safe houses are apparently run by Hamidullah Khan Niazi, an educational professor and head of the LeT in Faisalabad. Niazi’s house is raided at the same time, and he and 11 others are arrested. According to media reports shortly after the raid, electronic intercepts show that Niazi’s home phone was used by Lashkar-e-Toiba members to help al-Qaeda. However, Niazi and the others at his house are released several days later. [Observer, 4/7/2002; New York Times, 4/14/2002; US Department of Defense, 11/11/2008] But The Observer reports that local police nevertheless say Niazi’s “apparent links to Zubaida are evidence that Pakistan’s militant Islamic fringe is providing key assistance to al-Qaeda as it tries to regroup.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]
bullet In 2003, the London Times will report, “US intelligence says [Lashkar-e-Toiba] smuggled [Zubaida] out of Afghanistan, taking advantage of the fact that police never stop their distinctive Landcruisers, which have tinted windows and Free Kashmir numberplates.” [London Times, 3/30/2003]
As some of the examples above indicate, al-Qaeda operatives are often taken into US custody while LeT members are often let go, even though the US names LeT a terrorist group in December 2001 (see December 20, 2001). This may be due to ties between LeT and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. For instance, a 2009 diplomatic cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will note continued links between the ISI and LeT (see December 2009).

Entity Tags: Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, Abu Zubaida, Hamidullah Khan Niazi, Jabir Hasan Mohammad al-Qahtani, Al-Qaeda, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Abu Zubaida, Pakistan and the ISI, Escape From Afghanistan

Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region.Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region. [Source: CNN]Only about three dozen US soldiers take part in the Tora Bora ground offensive (see December 5-17, 2001). Author Peter Bergen will later comment, “If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops.” [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74] But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region.US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

British special forces soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) pursue Osama bin Laden as he flees the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001 and December 5-17, 2001). According to author Michael Smith, at one point they are “20 minutes” behind bin Laden, but they are “pulled off to allow US troops to go in for the kill.” However, it takes hours for the Americans to arrive, by which time bin Laden has escaped. [London Times, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Special Boat Service, Special Air Service

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden, Escape From Afghanistan

Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown.Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).

Entity Tags: Marty Martin, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V., Richard Blee

Category Tags: Escape From Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promised to seal off the Pakistani side of the border near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in return for considerable US economic aid (see November 2001). But Musharraf spent two weeks negotiating with tribal chieftains on the border before starting the deployment. Around December 10, two brigades begin to take up positions along the border. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002] However, Pakistan does not seal several important parts of the border. The regions of North and South Waziristan, Dir, Chitral, and Balochistan have no Pakistani army presence whatsoever. Bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders likely escape into Waziristan, where they begin to rebuild al-Qaeda (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The CIA intercepts communications between Pakistani officers warning not to harass any foreign fighters entering Waziristan. Several US officers will later tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that they suspect Pakistan deliberately failed to guard these regions in order to allow the fighters to escape. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148] On December 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of this border region, “It’s a long border. It’s a very complicated area to try to seal, and there’s just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] But armed gunmen storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, and a group based in Pakistan and allied with al-Qaeda is blamed (see December 13, 2001). Tensions suddenly rise between India and Pakistan, and Musharraf halts troop deployments to the Afghan border. The border near Tora Bora still is not adequately guarded by Pakistan when the battle of Tora Bora ends on December 17. Less than 100 stragglers entering Pakistan around December 19 are captured by Pakistani forces, but a number of these subsequently escape. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: United States, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Pakistan and the ISI, Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Haji Zaman Ghamsharik  speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001.Haji Zaman Ghamsharik speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]US-allied warlord Haji Zaman Ghamsharik makes radio contact with some al-Qaeda commanders in Tora Bora and offers a cease-fire so bin Laden can negotiate a surrender. The other US-allied warlord, Hazrat Ali, is also in secret talks with al-Qaeda and acquiesces to the deal. The US military is reportedly furious, but the fighting stops for the night. US intelligence later concludes that about 800 al-Qaeda fighters escape Tora Bora that night during the cease fire. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other rival Afghan commanders in the area later accuse Ghamsharik of accepting a large bribe from al-Qaeda so they can use the cease fire to escape. [New York Times, 9/30/2002] There are other accounts that the US-allied warlords helped instead of hindered al-Qaeda (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Hazrat Ali, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001.US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind] A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, Escape From Afghanistan

Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” [BBC, 12/30/2001; New York Times, 2/13/2002] In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. [Asia Times, 12/13/2001] In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, Younis Qanooni, Hamid Gul, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Pakistan and the ISI, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Pakistani ISI Links to 9/11

A videotape obtained by the CIA shows bin Laden at the end of the Tora Bora battle. He is walking on a trail either in Afghanistan and heading toward Pakistan, or already in Pakistan. Bin Laden is seen instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie undetected at night. A US bomb explodes in the distance. Referring to where the bomb was dropped, he says, “We were there last night.” The existence of this videotape will not be reported until late 2006. [Washington Post, 9/10/2006] In September 2005, the New York Times will report that, “On or about Dec. 16, 2001, according to American intelligence estimates, bin Laden left Tora Bora for the last time, accompanied by bodyguards and aides.… Bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback directly south toward Pakistan.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other accounts have him heading north into other parts of Afghanistan around this time instead (see December 15, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan

US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]

Entity Tags: John Stufflebeem, Donald Rumsfeld, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001.Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind] Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits interrogations of individuals, who were captured when the al-Qaeda stronghold near Tora Bora fell two days before, have not yielded timely information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “Most of what I’ve seen seems to be second-hand reports—that we’re not talking to people who are at least telling us that they met with bin Laden or they talked with bin Laden,” he says. “I think one guy claims that he saw bin Laden from several hundred yards away. It’s that quality of information.” He added: “It was a pretty confused situation.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Paul Wolfowitz

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; Guardian, 12/24/2001] However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region, Pakistan and the ISI

Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, US intelligence, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Bruce Riedel.Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bruce Riedel, Central Intelligence Agency, US intelligence

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. [Source: Public domain]Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2001; Washington Post, 1/10/2002; CNN, 1/10/2002] Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). [Boston Globe, 7/11/2004]

Entity Tags: Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Key Captures and Deaths

Mullah Mohammed Omar.Mullah Mohammed Omar. [Source: CBC]The US allegedly locates former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and 1,500 of his soldiers in the remote village of Baghran, Afghanistan. After a six-day siege, and surrounded by US helicopters and troops, Omar and four bodyguards supposedly escape the dragnet in a daring chase on motorcycles over dirt roads. His soldiers are set free in return for giving up their weapons, in a deal brokered by local leaders. Yet it remains unclear if Omar was ever in the village in the first place. [Observer, 1/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). [Reuters, 1/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Abu Nidal, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Escape From Afghanistan

US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close.US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close. [Source: Joe Raedle/ Reuters]The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002] A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. [New York Times, 3/14/2002]
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002; London Times, 6/18/2002]
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; Guardian, 3/15/2002] Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. [New York Times, 3/14/2002; New York Times, 3/18/2002] After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, United States, Thomas Franks, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Myers making his comments at a press conference.Myers making his comments at a press conference. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” He adds, “Obviously, that’s desirable,” but then he hints it won’t be desirable to do so soon, saying, “I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they’re harder to replace. I don’t know if that’s true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In early 2005, the recently retired Executive Director of the CIA will explicitly state that it is better to let bin Laden remain free (see January 9, 2005).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan

The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2002] The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” [USA Today, 4/18/2002] Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

US Special Forces apprehend Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a top general and one of the six most-wanted Taliban, in Kandahar. He is flown to a detention center north of Kabul for interrogation, but is released a few weeks later and escapes to Pakistan. Contradicting the statements of many soldiers in Kandahar, the Defense Intelligence Agency says it “has no knowledge that Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani was ever in US custody in Afghanistan.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2002] Curiously, the CIA took part in secret talks with Osmani over the fate of bin Laden (see Mid-September-October 2, 2001). Osmani will be killed in an air strike at the end of 2006 (see December 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Key Captures and Deaths

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan

Late 2005: CIA Closes Unit Hunting Bin Laden

The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Grenier, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorist Center, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Afghanistan, Escape From Afghanistan, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan

Senator Patrick Leahy.Senator Patrick Leahy. [Source: AP]During an interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program Democracy Now!, long-time Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says Congress is not asking two essential questions about the Bush administration’s failure to heed pre-9/11 warnings and to get Osama bin Laden after the attacks: “And, of course, the two questions that the Congress would not ask, because the Republicans won’t allow it, is, why did 9/11 happen on George Bush’s watch when he had clear warnings that it was going to happen? Why did they allow it to happen? And secondly, when they had Osama bin Laden cornered, why didn’t they get him? Had there been an independent Congress, one that could ask questions, these questions would have been asked years ago. We’d be much better off. We would have had the answers to that.” [Democracy Now!, 9/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy

Category Tags: US Government and 9/11 Criticism, Escape From Afghanistan

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Day of 9/11 Events (101)Key Hijacker Events (145)Key Warnings (95)

Day of 9/11

All Day of 9/11 Events (1250)Dick Cheney (53)Donald Rumsfeld (33)Flight AA 11 (145)Flight AA 77 (145)Flight UA 175 (87)Flight UA 93 (241)George Bush (121)Passenger Phone Calls (67)Pentagon (117)Richard Clarke (31)Shanksville, Pennsylvania (23)Training Exercises (56)World Trade Center (87)

The Alleged 9/11 Hijackers

Alhazmi and Almihdhar (343)Marwan Alshehhi (134)Mohamed Atta (205)Hani Hanjour (72)Ziad Jarrah (74)Other 9/11 Hijackers (172)Possible Hijacker Associates in US (79)Alleged Hijackers' Flight Training (73)Hijacker Contact w Government in US (33)Possible 9/11 Hijacker Funding (42)Hijacker Visas and Immigration (135)

Alhazmi and Almihdhar: Specific Cases

Bayoumi and Basnan Saudi Connection (51)CIA Hiding Alhazmi & Almihdhar (120)Search for Alhazmi/ Almihdhar in US (39)

Projects and Programs

Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit (172)Able Danger (60)Sibel Edmonds (61)Phoenix Memo (27)Randy Glass/ Diamondback (8)Robert Wright and Vulgar Betrayal (67)Remote Surveillance (241)Yemen Hub (75)

Before 9/11

Soviet-Afghan War (105)Warning Signs (432)Insider Trading/ Foreknowledge (53)US Air Security (71)Military Exercises (67)Pipeline Politics (67)Other Pre-9/11 Events (55)

Counterterrorism before 9/11

Hunt for Bin Laden (158)Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11 (223)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (249)

Warning Signs: Specific Cases

Foreign Intelligence Warnings (35)Bush's Aug. 6, 2001 PDB (39)Presidential Level Warnings (31)

The Post-9/11 World

9/11 Investigations (651)9/11 Related Criminal Proceedings (22)9/11 Denials (29)US Government and 9/11 Criticism (67)9/11 Related Lawsuits (24)Media (47)Other Post-9/11 Events (76)

Investigations: Specific Cases

9/11 Commission (257)Role of Philip Zelikow (87)9/11 Congressional Inquiry (41)CIA OIG 9/11 Report (16)FBI 9/11 Investigation (144)WTC Investigation (112)Other 9/11 Investigations (128)

Possible Al-Qaeda-Linked Moles or Informants

Abu Hamza Al-Masri (102)Abu Qatada (36)Ali Mohamed (78)Haroon Rashid Aswat (17)Khalil Deek (20)Luai Sakra (12)Mamoun Darkazanli (36)Nabil Al-Marabh (41)Omar Bakri & Al-Muhajiroun (25)Reda Hassaine (23)Other Possible Moles or Informants (169)

Other Al-Qaeda-Linked Figures

Abu Zubaida (99)Anwar Al-Awlaki (17)Ayman Al-Zawahiri (81)Hambali (39)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (139)Mohammed Haydar Zammar (44)Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (47)Osama Bin Laden (228)Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh (105)Ramzi Yousef (67)Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (57)Victor Bout (23)Wadih El-Hage (45)Zacarias Moussaoui (159)

Al-Qaeda by Region

"Lackawanna Six" (13)Al-Qaeda in Balkans (168)Al-Qaeda in Germany (189)Al-Qaeda in Italy (55)Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia (149)Al-Qaeda in Spain (121)Islamist Militancy in Chechnya (50)

Specific Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks or Plots

1993 WTC Bombing (73)1993 Somalia Fighting (13)1995 Bojinka Plot (78)1998 US Embassy Bombings (121)Millennium Bomb Plots (43)2000 USS Cole Bombing (114)2001 Attempted Shoe Bombing (23)2002 Bali Bombings (36)2004 Madrid Train Bombings (82)2005 7/7 London Bombings (87)

Miscellaneous Al-Qaeda Issues

Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks (89)Alleged Al-Qaeda Media Statements (102)Key Captures and Deaths (124)

Geopolitics and Islamic Militancy

US Dominance (112)Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links (255)Iraq War Impact on Counterterrorism (83)Israel (61)Pakistan and the ISI (470)Saudi Arabia (249)Terrorism Financing (312)Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism (322)US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy (69)Algerian Militant Collusion (41)Indonesian Militant Collusion (20)Philippine Militant Collusion (74)Yemeni Militant Collusion (47)Other Government-Militant Collusion (23)

Pakistan / ISI: Specific Cases

Pakistani Nukes & Islamic Militancy (37)Pakistani ISI Links to 9/11 (73)Saeed Sheikh (59)Mahmood Ahmed (30)Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region (179)2008 Kabul Indian Embassy Bombing (10)Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan (154)

Terrorism Financing: Specific Cases

Al Taqwa Bank (29)Al-Kifah/MAK (54)BCCI (37)BIF (28)BMI and Ptech (21)Bin Laden Family (62)Drugs (71)

'War on Terrorism' Outside Iraq

Afghanistan (299)Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan (49)Destruction of CIA Tapes (92)Escape From Afghanistan (61)High Value Detainees (179)Terror Alerts (50)Counterterrorism Action After 9/11 (352)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (432)Internal US Security After 9/11 (125)
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